I have a proposal to make. Perhaps some will see it as a radical proposal, a proposal that may shake the roots of a tradition sustained for centuries but I think it is a simple, easy, low cost and effective one to help all future generations. Sounds a bit grandiose of me I’m sure but I think it is important to put it out there. It is not even a novel proposition.
This proposal is about education. What prompted this idea was a series of recent incidents. The first was the fact that we are seeking to hire some staff for our facility and are looking for a true professional sensitive to the needs of our patients and understanding of cultural diversity. The second event was a BBC piece shown on Public Broadcasting television about the survival of Israel. Wait don’t dismiss this because you think the BBC is anti-Semitic. I am not writing about the politics of the show or the BBC. I am thinking about a thirty second section of the video shot in the Bait Midrash of a large yeshiva.
More and more we have found that fewer and fewer applicants for jobs have basic writing skills. Their applications have spelling errors and grammatically incorrect phrasing. While this situation applies increasingly to all groups in Gen-Y it seems to be worse among our own. At first I thought it was my sensitivity to the group that I belong to, but no, they have less skill at sentence construction and even comprehension. In discussion with the applicants I have found that they tend to choose words that are less complex and not coincidentally convey less meaning. On writing samples they make numerous errors and are not even aware of them even after they have been pointed out. I tell you it is most frustrating.
The government of Israel appears to be mandating a secular education of at least the basics and while many in the Hareidi world publicly oppose the idea there seems to be a movement afoot to introduce a modicum of courses in math and language at the high school level. But that, to my mind is simply insufficient; which brings us to the BBC video called “Israel: Facing the Future”. I am not interested in the accuracy of the overall video and I take exception with certain claims made by defenders of Israel that the video did not show destruction is Israel by Hamas rockets, it did. I will leave all that for a different time. I am more concerned about a simple, specific, very small part of the show.
The video was a very current combination of news and magazine format information about Israel and the stress of being surrounded by enemies. For the BBC, it was not filled with hatred and maybe even by their standard, balanced. One segment looked at the conflict that the Hareidi world has with the secular society within Israel. Within that segment was a brief piece in which the reporter spent a few minutes speaking and walking through Meah Shearim with a rabbi of a large yeshiva. The reporter asked the rosh yeshiva if his students, ranging in age from 16 to 22 learned any subjects other then Talmud or Torah. The response was, as we all know, “no”. I found that troubling. I learned in such a setting and understand what the goal is – still the abruptness of his response was unsettling to me. It seemed completely and totally dismissive. This rosh yeshiva was not a member of the aida charidit, not even wearing all black. He was dressed in a modern suit and tie. He was articulate and friendly and conversant in English. Still it sounded like he was trivializing the entire concept of knowledge beyond Talmud despite the fact that he himself likely had a broader education.
It’s clear why he does not want to let his students learn other topics, it gives him a sense of control both directly and directly. I have a better way to offer him more control. He doesn’t even have to send his students to YU or even Touro. All he needs to do is expand their educational horizons by allowing some inter-disciplinary educational work. It can even, and maybe should even, be combined with Talmud studies. There is much discussion in the Talmud about economics and finance. A course on math could easily be offered with these topics. Students can be asked to write essays about the topics they are learning and their writing corrected so that they may be learn how to construct an essay that is clear, cohesive and correct. The students can and should even be taught the proper use of computers; the world is becoming digitized, it is important to keep up with it. These skills are not just relevant for chilonim (non- religious) they are relevant for everyone, even the next generation of rabbis and religious leaders. It would be a mistake to release young, bright, highly educated Talmud scholars who cannot communicate properly in the world that they are entering.